Lucas Pouille is well aware that victory for him on Saturday in the Dubai Duty Free Championships final would give him a spot in the world’s top-10 for the first time in his career but the Frenchman insists he enters the match with no extra pressure on his shoulders.
The No. 2 seed, who overcame the rain and a stubborn Filip Krajinovic 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5) in the last-four on Friday, will be contesting his third final in four weeks having won the title in Montpellier and placed runner-up in Marseille in the build-up to Dubai.
His reward could be a maiden top-10 berth but standing in his way is Roberto Bautista Agut, who crushed the hopes of the rowdy Arab crowd by ending Tunisian Malek Jaziri’s stunning run to the semi-finals. The Spaniard came back from 1-4 down in the second set to ease past Jaziri 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 19 minutes.
“Of course, I know. I heard. I’m not watching the ranking, but so many people told me already. Of course, I know,” Pouille said with a smile when asked if he knew he was one win away from that elite ranking bracket.
“Well, that’s exciting. Playing to reach the top-10 for the first time, of course it’s something great. But obviously if I play like this every week of the year, I mean, if I’m focused like this and I’m mentally as strong as I am now, I’m sure one week or another I will be in the top 10.
“Tomorrow is not going to be the most important match of my life, but definitely important. I’m just very exciting, and that’s it. No pressure.”
On a rainy day in Dubai, the 24-year-old Pouille was cruising against Krajinovic, and served for the match at 6-3, 5-4. Krajinovic had wanted to stop play a game earlier because the rain was getting heavier, but the umpire urged them to play on and Pouille was keen to finish the match quickly.
Instead, Krajinovic broke to draw level at 5-all, and then snatched the tiebreak to force a decider.
“I didn’t want to stop. I was feeling good. I wanted to finish the match quickly. I think that was a mistake,” admitted Pouille after the clash.
It was the second time in seven days the pair were squaring off, and just like in their Marseille quarter-finals last Friday, Pouille ended up getting the win in three sets.
He’s pleased he didn’t let the match slip away after that second-set blip.
“I think that would have hurt a lot,” Pouille said of the prospect of losing that contest.
Pouille started his year by losing a fifth consecutive Australian Open first round. He was injured and didn’t play in France’s Davis Cup tie against the Netherlands, but then managed to turn things around and has now won 11 of his last 13 matches.
On bouncing back from his early season disappointment, Pouille said: “In my mind I was like, ‘Okay, c’mon, you worked so hard, stop losing matches because you put too much pressure on yourself. Just try to play your game, fight until the end, you will see.
“Anyway, either you win it or you lose it, but better losing with my game and playing than not playing.”
Pouille trails Bautista Agut 1-2 head-to-head but won their most recent meeting at the 2016 US Open.
On his part, Bautista Agut is happy to put his own slump behind him having entered the Dubai tournament carrying a three-match losing streak. The Spanish No. 3 seed is searching for an eighth career title while Pouille is bidding for a sixth. Both of them have already picked up one trophy each in 2018.
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